The opening scene of Vijay’s Idhu Enna Maayam reminded me of the younger Kamal Haasan character’s quip to his girlfriend in Indian. He says they should go to a theatre playing Schindler’s List – it’s a very good film, so there’ll be no one in the audience and they can do what they want. Here, it’s an English play – and by the looks of it, not a very good one. There are two people in the audience. Realising there’s no money in theatre, the members of the group (led by Vikram Prabhu, who plays Arun) decide to use their acting and producing skills and stage elaborate scenarios to help love-struck guys get the girls they want. It’s Cupid as a consortium. It’s also creepy as hell.
What Arun & Co. are doing is essentially making girls fall for guys they aren’t interested in, and knowing there’ll be pesky viewers like me bringing this up, Arun offers this explanation: he only helps guys whose love is true. Oh please. What about the girl? Shouldn’t her love be true too? If she says she’s not interested, should the guy be allowed to pursue her till she relents? Arun & Co. treat romance like a tailor would treat a pair of ill-fitting pants. Take in the waist. Lose a couple of inches at the hem. Keep working at it till it fits. It’s a conceit right out of sci-fi, and we did see something similar in The Truman Show, where simulated reality was used to manipulate human lives. Only, the “hero” of this film, Arun, is playing the “villain” of that one, the Ed Harris character. He’s playing God.
How do you cram these disturbing ethical and philosophical dimensions into something that wants to be just a date flick with at least one song shredded to its constituent consonants by Udit Narayan? You cannot. As a result, Idhu Enna Maayam is just a fascinating mess – fascinating for what it could have been, a mess for what it actually is. For a film with such a novel premise, it’s confounding how many clichés it resorts to. There’s the one during a college flashback where the hero saves the day during a hockey match. There’s the one where hero and heroine (Maya, played by Keerthy Suresh, who looks quite like her mother, the actress Menaka) are in love but pretend to be carrying messages for other people in love with them. The leads just don’t click. Vikram Prabhu is miscast. He’s stiff and inward – he’s no romantic leading man. The part needs looseness, glint-in-the-eye charisma, but his face is an inscrutable mask. Keerthy Suresh is… cute. I hesitate to use that word because of how Humbert Humbertish it makes me sound, but she does have that anointed-with-morning-dew quality that makes you see why Mani Ratnam is (reportedly) considering her for his new movie. But she keeps hitting the same note, speaking all her lines as though she were a mortally wounded doe.
Some of the comedy works. There are times the setups go wrong, and Charlie has a high old time as an actor who thinks it’s a real shooting spot – he keeps looking for the cinematographer. But there’s very little of this in a very long movie. (At least, it feels very long.) Nasser is wasted in the role of Arun’s father who’s in the screenplay simply so that he can give his son sorrowful looks and say things like “naan panna thappa nee pannaadhe.” But if anyone deserves an easy pay cheque, it’s him. A few weeks back, while talking about Yagavarayinum Naa Kaakka, I’d written about a possible Mani Ratnam effect on today’s filmmakers. Here, we see re-enactments of the “Mr. Chandramouli” scene from Mouna Raagam, and the Amala-slinking-into-Prabhu’s-house scene from Agni Natchatiram. I think it’s talismanic. These directors must be hoping some of that magic will rub off. They hope and hope, and then they hope some more.
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